Volume 7, Issue 9 - October 2006

Lamination Domination
Laminated Glass Explodes as its Multiple Benefits are Realized
by Sarah Batcheler

What can protect a home from hurricane-force winds, intruders with crowbars and the deafening sounds of a train, while delivering energy efficient and even decorative benefits? Laminated glass seems to have something for everyone, which is why its demand has grown dramatically in the past few years.

“The use of laminated glass has exploded—multiplied exponentially,” says Dave Koester, brand manager at Weather Shield Windows and Doors of Medford, Wis. “It is the result of the domino that falls—starting with the unfortunate events of Hurricane Andrew [South Florida – 1992] that revolutionized the building codes. The requirements we had, sent us into the direction of laminated glass, and then widened consumer and builders understanding of what laminated glass could do. Now, there are other areas where it is used even when it is not required by code.” 

Some say they are just now seeing a large increase in demand for laminated products in the industry. 

“Five years ago, people were shocked with the prices of laminated glass. It was cheaper to buy storm shutters. Now, people are realizing the value associated with laminated glass,” says Bob Keller, senior product manager for Fiberglass Entry Systems at Therma-Tru Doors of Maumee, Ohio.

Wayne Gorell is the chairperson and chief executive officer of Gorell Enterprises Inc., an Indiana, Pa.,-based company that manufactures vinyl replacement windows, patio doors and sunrooms. He says his company’s sales of laminated glass products has roughly doubled each year for the past five years.

Hit by Hurricanes
The coastal communities that have been hit by hurricanes have been the driving reason for this exponential increase.

“The biggest thing has been the weather incidents—big hurricanes and big weather systems. And, the media has a piece of that. Ten or 15 years ago, you didn’t have reporters covering the storms. Now, they stand out in the blowing winds, letting people know what’s exactly going on in the storm. They’re seeing that it’s real and that there are products out there to protect us,” says Keller.

Stephanie Davenport, residential program manager of Solutia Saflex Business, a company based in St. Louis, Mo., that manufactures PVB interlayers for laminated glass, agrees.

“The demand for our product has increased dramatically due to hurricanes. In the past it was always, ‘this won’t happen to me’,” says Davenport.

Laminated glass is becoming a realistic alternative to storm shutters.

“People are evaluating the cost of laminated glass versus the cost of storm shutters. There are Floridians who aren’t there during the hurricane season and have to pay upwards of $600 for the application and an additional $600 for the removal of shutters for a storm,” says Davenport.

Benefits for Everyone
The advantages of laminated glass stretch far beyond just impact-resistance, although many would agree that the biggest advantage recognized right now is its ability to keep homes safer in storms.

“We all sell the other benefits of the product such as sound abatement and its safety and security as well. These are other ways we can market the product,” says Bill Lazor, senior product manager at Simonton Windows in Parkersburg, W.Va.
Gorell agrees, “Hurricane protection is number one, but then [there is] safety, security, sound control, UV protection [anti-fading], along with the energy savings.”

Koester talks about the five S’s: sound, safety, security, solar and storm.

“They’re calling for safety glass in golf course club houses and homes surrounding golf courses. Depending on the thickness, laminated glass is virtually impossible to get in with a bat or crowbar, so people are using it for vacation homes or primary residences,” according to Koester.

“People are starting to realize that laminated glass is a viable and attractive solution for safety and security,” says Brian Hedlund, window product marketing manager at Jeld-Wen of Klamath Falls, Ore.

“When people purchase a door with laminated glass, they are looking to solve at least one of two main problems, says Keller. “Weather resistance in hurricane areas or security in a metro area … A third area that is starting to emerge is sound transmission,” says Keller.

Some recognize the energy efficiencies that laminated glass offers.

“Energy is still definitely the main attraction, but the benefits of laminated products are not generally understood by the public. Once it is explained, most people will chose the energy savings along with the other benefits of our laminated products,” says Gorell. “I believe it’s just a matter of time to get the word out. I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of replacement windows offer some form of laminated glass in five to ten years.”

“People are using the glass to keep their cooling bill down or their heating bill low,” says Lazor.

Hedlund says that the top benefit of laminated glass depends on the region of the country.

“In the southeast, it is impact resistance,” says Hedlund.

Energy efficiency is also a value from the standpoint of tax credit and decreased energy bills. “Impact-resistant products are beneficial for the consumer as there are insurance credits available,” says Bill Bezubic, director of engineering and technical services for MI Windows and Doors of Gratz, Pa.

What, besides hurricanes, has led to this dramatic increase in laminated glass?

“Energy Star® has done a good job in making their presence known, and most of our customers demand Energy Star, so there is a higher percentage of low-E being used to meet the codes,” says Lazer.

“Additionally, the insurance industry has pushed the benefits because it helps mitigate the costs in the insurance industry,” Keller adds.

Some in the laminated glass market attribute growth in technology for the increase in demand.

“Since the technology has improved for impact windows the demand has been steadily increasing in the coastal markets,” adds Bezubic.

Others, such as Steve Howes, the owner and president of Glasslam, a company that offers a range of resin lamination products including Safety-Plus® Hurricane Glass, Breakthrough® Resistant Glass and Bevelpane® Decorative Glass, look to the economy.

“Because housing starts are slowing and there is a shorter order book window manufacturers are starting to look to do more for themselves. Now, we’re at the beginning of the slow up, companies are looking to be more integrated—which makes sense,” says Howes. “When the economy was brilliant, people were interested but didn’t do much about it,” he adds.

Sound Control
An emerging trend in the laminated glass market is the realization that it can minimize sound emissions and allow homeowners to enjoy quiet indoor living, even if they are located in metropolitan areas.

“Laminated glass blocks sound transmission, which is a new thing in the last year or so. I don’t think it was intended for this use, but it is being used for this because it is something better. We’ll have to wait and see if it’ll be the end-all be-all [for this problem], says Keller.

“But we know, especially on the West Coast, there are areas where acoustic control is an issue and laminated glass is the most cost effective way to keep sound from coming through the glazing,” says Davenport. “There’s no other solution that I know of that will reduce sound through glass,” she adds.

Codes
As strict building codes of coastal communities become more prevalent, the need for laminated glass for doors and windows will also increase.

“The trends have been more building code related – it has driven the demand. With recent hurricane damage, they [the codes] are getting more stringent and widespread. The usage is growing substantially,” says Hedlund. “As building codes have changed, the bar has been raised because the codes have required them [to rise],” he adds.

“We’ve seen a major impact caused by the new building codes for hurricane protection, environmental regulation, energy costs, and speed-to-market,” says Jeff Rodrigues, market manager for RADCURE™ Industrial Coatings-Americas Cytec/UVEKOL of Smyrna, Ga.

Koester explains how the building codes changed the requirements of laminated glass products.

“The requirements have changed in two areas – performance structural-wise and performance energy-wise, which is really a symptom of a larger trend,” says Koester. “Now, because of the different energy requirements, you need region-specific products. With that, the performance has changed with energy codes and homeowners realize they can save money. Codes have driven performance, and now people look for the best performing windows,” says Koester.

Keller says that codes have changed the way Therma-Tru designs its doors.

“We are much more aware of the code implications we have through the country. You have to be cognizant of ‘does it meet the different codes in the area you intend it to serve?’” he says.

Market Changes
Some company leaders in the laminated glass market have witnessed changes in the past few years.

Koester says he has observed a change in the amount of offers from the company’s PVB manufacturers. 

“Now, from our supplier—depending on what you want—you can get 30-, 60-, 90-, or 100-gauge interlayers. We have evolved and we can combine tinted glass. It has evolved to the point that they [PVB manufacturers] can meet many different needs and preferences,” says Koester.

“Some of the biggest changes in laminated glass are the new technologies being developed to help energy efficiency in laminated glass panels and insulated glass panels,” says Bezubic.

Laminated glass has come a long way, Keller says.

“The biggest change is the growth of laminated glass from a niche product five years ago to a mainstream product in certain markets from patio markets to decorative entryways,” says Keller.

Doing It Themselves
Lately, there have been many door and window companies that are buying lamination equipment and laminating glass in their own manufacturing facilities. The advantages for these companies are huge.

“More and more people are finding out that it [laminated glass] works and the demand is going up,” says Lazer. “The challenge with that is that there is not enough capacity,” he adds. “To help alleviate that, we have tempering facility and laminating facility put in and we are on the front end of the learning curve right now.”

“They’re [door and window manufacturers] primarily looking for faster turnaround and cost savings,” says Rodrigues. “Companies want more control over the supply, quality, delivery and costs of their key raw materials.”

Howes, whose company manufactures equipment that door and window manufacturers can purchase to laminate their own glass says that most companies will do their own lamination, or else they won’t be competitive. 

“To have our system installed takes between 12 and 15 weeks because of the back up log and set-up. They buy the machines and we set them up and train them, and then they buy the actual resin from us—which we manufacture,” says Howes.

He continues, “The main thing that door and window manufacturers are looking for is the cost of getting into laminating glass. We’ve developed a fully-computerized machine. 

Lazer agrees.

“To meet the demand, it would be reasonable for manufacturers to put in, at least, their own laminated glass facility. I know we are and lots of our competitors are. It also shows investment in the long-term viability of the impact market.”

Alternative Lamination
There are different types of lamination available to door and window manufacturers. There is traditional PVB interlayers and alternative methods, such as poured lamination.

“In general, the market is looking for better alternatives to using PVB laminated glass. This method has been around since the 1930s, and requires the heat, pressure and vacuum of an autoclave. Door and window manufacturers are now migrating to also use UV curing technology because of its higher throughput, eco-friendliness, ease of use, and cost-efficiency, says Rodrigues.

Although Rodrigues says the market is looking for alternatives, all of the manufacturers of doors and windows DWM spoke to say they use the PVB method. 

Hedlund says Jeld-Wen used to use Uvekol and other alternative types of lamination, but DuPont™ SentryGlas® Plus now serves as its interlayer. 

“The building codes have led us to align ourselves with the best available partners,” he says.

Weather Shield says it continues to test and monitor alternative forms, but uses laminate that’s through the interlayer. 
“We have good success with our interlayer method,” says Koester.

Most companies agree, the traditional interlayer method is the front-runner.

“We [MI Windows and Doors] have researched alternative types of lamination and feel it is not the best option for our products at this time,” says Bezubic.

“We’ve [Simonton] experimented with alternative types of laminates such as poured laminate, but they don’t meet our production model. It works fine, but it doesn’t fit in with the way we make windows. We’ve chosen to take the more traditional path and use PVB or STP,” says Lazer.

Decorative
Decorative options for lamination are available for doorlites and door inserts, but many say that trend is still on the up swing. Decorative interlayers provide the same protection as laminated glass with the added benefit of beauty and a unique touch, but most door and window manufacturers agree—it is a product geared towards commercial and high-end residential construction.

“Decorative laminates are growing—there is a little bit of residential, but not a lot in general. For residential, they go in entry doors, doorlites or the odd thing in bathrooms. Very small custom applications,” says Howes.

“We see a lot of specialty grid patterns continue to explode in popularity. People want to get more creative,” says Lazer, who adds that he’s seen more etched and patterned glass.

Weather Shield uses a decorative interlayer.

“For decorative options, VANCEVA of Solutia gives us the ability to use colors or patterns or textures,” says Koester. “However, that [decorative aspect of laminated glass] is still relatively unknown in my opinion. As far as decorative glass and patterns–most of what has come in is on the commercial side so far,” says Koester.

Although it has been introduced, laminated glass for decorative purposes is not widely used.

“There are some door manufacturers who make very high-end entry doors with decorative interlayers where there is impact requirements—that is huge,” says Davenport.

“It is decorative and it protects the home from invasion, sound and hurricane impact.

In the residential sense, it is going to be a higher-end product because people want personalization and customization,” says Davenport. “It won’t be in the off-the-shelf production.”

A Bright Future
“Laminated glass will continue to grow. It is one of the best growth markets for window and door manufacturers for probably 15 years,” says Lazer. “As space becomes an issue in [metropolitan] areas, we’ll be able to sell more laminated glass,” he adds.

“[There will be] continued exploration in what issues laminated glass solves, for example it’s ability to improve sound transmission numbers. In doors, it will be the continued transition to be a product to entry doors in decorative styles – the biggest shift is the increase in the market,” says Keller.

Already looking ahead, Koester addresses the areas he expects to see grow.

“We’ve seen how effective hurricane-rated homes can be. People are going to look to laminated glass for [use in areas with] tornados, seismic [areas] and they’re already spec’ing commercially for blast-resistance,” says Koester.

Rodrigues agrees, “We believe you’ll see more UV glass lamination products for acoustical, solar control and bomb-blast resistance applications.”

“Right now, laminated glass is still new enough to the market where it’s got its niche in hurricane markets and people will continue to explore (it’s options),” says Keller, who adds that there has been talk about tornado-proof homes in the future.

Some say the spread of building codes will drive the growth.

“This market will continue to expand. Building codes are going to get more stringent,” says Hedlund, who predicts that the stringent Florida codes that led the country will continue to spread up the Atlantic and up the Gulf Coast.

“There are many different things going on that will affect the future of laminated glass.

People are starting looking at the benefits of laminated glass to keep buildings safer in areas of high seismic activity.

“In earthquakes, structures twist and glass falls out … and, with the unfortunate events of 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing, laminated glass offers blast resistant capacity,” says Koester. 

“Cheap is not a word that comes to mind when protecting your family. People want to have the best products,” Koester adds.

Sarah Batcheler is an assistant editor for DWM magazine.

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